‘The Clubfoot’ is an oil on canvas painting by Jusepe de Ribera, painted in Naples in 1642 that is currently housed in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. It was commissioned by a Flemish dealer and features a Neapolitan beggar boy that has a deformed foot. The boy has a crutch slung over his left shoulder and he is holding a paper that authorizes him to beg, which reads in Latin: “Give me alms for the love of God.” It was bequeathed to the Louvre by a French physician and art collector, Louis La Caze in 1869.
The reason for the ‘clubfoot’ deformity is the subject of some controversy. As it is not a classic isolated clubfoot deformity and the boy appear to have other deformities, the name of the painting as ‘The Clubfoot’ may not be appropriate. Two hypotheses have been proposed as to what the foot deformity is:
The hemiplegia hypothesis:
F. Fitoussi and O. Meslay wrote to the Louvre museum in 2005 suggesting that the boy has a right sided hemiplegia due to cerebral palsy (Fitoussi F, Meslay O. Le Pied-Bot de Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652). Muse´e du Louvre, Le tableau du mois n 120; 2005; cited by Stahl et al, 2015). They based this on a number of observations: the foot deformity appears to be simple equinus foot deformity and not the typical idiopathic clubfoot deformity; they note the right hand deformities and arm posture on the same side as the foot deformity being consistent with a left-sided brain injury; the hemiplegia is also consistent with a speech impairment that they boy probably has as they are carrying a note to help him with the begging; a typical clubfoot is generally isolated and not associated with a speech impairment.
The arthrogryposis hypothesis:
This was proposed J.G. Hall by 1983 that the boy has a form of arthogryposis and several sources on arthogryposis have cited the painting since then (cited by Stahl et al, 2015). This hypothesis was based on the presence of possible multiples contractures in addition to the foot equinus: the bilateral flexion of the wrists, the fixed extension of the elbow and the and shoulder pronation contracture. However, generally most forms of arthrogryposis tend to be bilateral and in this painting it is unilateral.
In their analysis of these hypotheses Stahl et al, 2015, conclude:
According to all the elements provided by the analysis of the picture, it is impossible to rule out the hemiplegia diagnosis to support that of arthogryposis. Although we do not exclude the arguments put forward to support the latter, the indications in favour of a hemiplegia are prevailing.
The description of the painting at the Lourve notes:
Now inseparable from the painting, the title “Le Pied-Bot”, which only appeared in 1849, was taken up by Reiset in 1870 at the entrance to the La Caze bequest at the Louvre. In a recent study, Dr Franck Fitoussi, orthopedic surgeon at the Robert-Debré hospital in Paris, established that the model did not have a clubfoot but suffered from a handicap due to a right hemiplegia (wrist and foot. crooked rights) which should have prevented him from speaking correctly, hence the sheet of paper he is holding in his hand.
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